About: Ilona Bray

Ilona Bray is a former attorney and the author of several Nolo immigration books. Her working background includes both solo immigration practice and working or volunteering as an immigration attorney with nonprofit organizations in Seattle and California.

Recent Posts by Ilona Bray

Fundraising Irony: Small Nonprofits Rely on Low-ROI Events for Fundraising

Processed by: Helicon Filter;Small or volunteer-led nonprofits can’t, in most cases, go after large grants or major donors. Lacking such resources as a well-staffed development department and influential board members, they have good reason to turn to fundraising events.

Bake sales, walk-a-thons, auctions, gala dinners, and concerts all offer opportunities to mobilize a lot of volunteers, in some cases on short notice. Hey, events are practically parties, and might raise money, too!

But not much money. According to the research group Software Advice, events-based fundraising can be harder for small nonprofits than large ones. They “are at a disadvantage,” because “the upfront investment for an event is a strain on resources.”

As explained in the report, this strain is caused by the groups’ tight budgets, as well as the fact that their largely volunteer-based staff may not have significant event planning experience.

That doesn’t mean smaller groups should despair with regard to events-based fundraising, however. Software Advice’s Report helpfully analyzed which events are most and least efficient in producing profits.

And now for the spoiler. The report’s major findings included that:

  • fun runs and walks are the easiest events to plan, producing moderate to high financial reward for nonprofits of all sizes
  • on average, a-thon events have the lowest cost per dollar raised (CPDR), and thus are suitable for all nonprofits, and
  • concerts have the highest CPDR, best taken on by groups with a larger budget.

No matter what type of event your group takes on, learning from other groups that have done them before can be enormously helpful. For tips, stories, checklists and more, see The Volunteers’ Guide to Fundraising: Raise Money for Your School, Team, Library or Community Group, by Ilona Bray, J.D. (Nolo).

The Downside of Watching Your House Rise in Value: Capital Gains Tax

buying-home-selling-your-house“Did you hear how much that house down the street just sold far?!” If you live in a place like the Bay Area of California, that’s a sentence you’ll hear repeated at every neighborhood gathering — usually followed by details about what a fixer-upper the place was, how many offers came in, and how many tens of thousands over asking price it actually sold for.

Then everyone goes a bit quiet, secretly calculating, “If that dump went for over a million, then my place must be worth . . . WOW!”

Yes, it’s fun to be back in a time of home appreciation. Such rises in value haven’t happened in every part of the U.S., but in the places where they are happening — such as in the cities of New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, and San Diego — the numbers are truly eye-popping.

As soon as your home appreciation goes over $250,000 (for individual homeowners) or $500,000 (for married homeowners filing jointly), however, the fun is tempered by a look down the road, as you remember capital gains taxes. Real estate gains like these catapult you right over the IRS exclusion, into a world where you might actually owe a chunk of change when you sell.

This issue was recently pointed out by Ron Lieber of The New York Times, in an article whose title offers the best advice around: “House Value Jumping? Save Your Home Improvement Receipts.” According to Lieber’s research, 3.8% of single homeowners and 1.2% of married homeowners already need to worry about paying capital gains tax upon sale, based on their home’s appreciation since they purchased.

But, as Lieber also reminds us, home appreciation isn’t as simple as merely subtracting your purchase price from your sale price. You can reduce your “profit” by factoring in (among other things) the money you poured into improving your home along the way. As Nolo’s Stephen Fishman further explains, “The cost of home improvements are added to the tax basis of your home. “Basis” means the amount of your investment in your home for tax purposes. The greater your basis, the less profit you’ll receive when you sell your home.”

But you’ve got to be able to prove the amount you spent on improvements. The IRS auditor isn’t going to be impressed by you pointing to your lovely new kitchen countertops if you don’t have the receipts to back it up. See “Tax Reasons to Keep Good Records of Home Improvements” for details on what records to keep.

Brillliant Legal Maneuver: Nonprofits Join Class Action Suing Over USCIS Delays

Technical ProblemThe gears of bureaucracy are grinding even more slowly than usual, as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) routinely takes weeks or months to approve non-citizens’ applications for employment authorization (a work permit).

Why should we care? Let me start by explaining why everyone in the U.S. is affected by these USCIS delays, and then circle back to the nonprofits bringing suit over it.

Numerous non-citizens have the right to be in the U.S. and to work here. In order to actually accept a job, however they need a plastic ID card called an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) or work permit. For instance, people who have been granted asylum or Temporary Protected Status (TPS), as well as people who’ve applied for a marriage- or family-based green card and are awaiting a USCIS interview can apply for work permits.

But, they can’t work until the card arrives — and they have to stop working if their card expires before they’ve successfully renewed it. Theoretically, they can walk straight into a USCIS office for an “interim” work permit if the mailed-in EAD application yields no reply, but the agency hasn’t been complying with the obligation to act on those requests, either.

The result of these USCIS delays affects more than just the noncitizen:

  • U.S. businesses of all sizes may lose employees on short notice when their work permits aren’t renewed — or else face legal sanctions for continuing to hire that person.
  • The cost of that business’s goods may rise, or its efficiency levels fall, because of this staffing shortage.
  • The non-citizens (who are in many cases low income, if they haven’t been able to legally work for a while), may go to nonprofit organizations, in search of low-cost help in inquiring after their seemingly long-lost work permit application.
  • The nonprofits may spend valuable hours writing and calling in search of answers, then following up when they don’t get those answers. In my experience, getting USCIS to take action can be enough to put a lawyer on high blood pressure meds. And indeed, the recently filed complaint states that USCIS “provide[s] incorrect and conflicting information to applicants who call the agency’s 1-800 customer service number or visit USCIS offices for Infopass appointments.”
  • Donors to these nonprofits have to spend more to support even the most basic services.

That’s why we should all care, in theory. But the brilliant action recently taken by two U.S. nonprofits — Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) in Washington State and The Advocates for Human Rights in Minnesota — was to say (in essence), to heck with mere caring, the U.S. government owes them money over the losses they’re sustaining. They joined a class action lawsuit, adding their names to those of individual immigrants (who are directly damaged by being unable to work) filing suit against USCIS.

It’s not an immediately obvious strategy. As any first-year law student can tell you, before someone can join in on a class action lawsuit (in which a group of people or entities collectively sues the same defendant), they need to have been directly injured by the defendant’s actions. They can’t add their names in sheer protest.

Here’s how the organizations explained their ability to join in the suit within the complaint filed in late May of 2015: “Defendants’ policies and practices have caused [NWIRP and The Advocates] to divert scarce resources to assisting and advising clients whose EAD applications have been delayed, and who have not received interim employment authorization.”

Make no mistake, nonprofits serving immigrants really do have scarce resources. Funding comes almost all from private sources, not governmental ones. At one immigration nonprofit where I worked, the computers still ran on MS-DOS (remember that?) while the rest of world was using MS Office and email. I had to go home just to print out a document. Any extra time spent on one task means staying at work even later to deal with the hundreds of other waiting tasks — while the line of people awaiting services grows longer and longer.

Let’s stay tuned to see how this lawsuit goes.

Will Johnny Depp Face Prison for Bringing His Dogs Into Australia?

travelwithpets_456pxI have no idea, not being an Australian lawyer, whether actor Johnny Depp will really be locked up and away from his screaming fans for smuggling his two Yorkshire terriers into the country on his private jet. (But at least I didn’t put any bad puns into the headline, like the Guardian’s caption about the “Ruff time” he may be facing.)

No, the reason I clicked on the related headlines (the only reason, honest) is that it serves as a reminder that international quarantine laws are real, and that those fuzzy, feathered, or scaly creatures that we might think of as little family members are viewed as carriers of disease and other dangers by those who enforce these laws. (Why else would importation of cats and dogs to the U.S. be under the control of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)?)

In order to bring a dog into the U.S., you will need to be sure that it is healthy and has received a rabies vaccine if it’s from a country where rabies is present. If traveling to Hawaii or Guam, the dog may need to be quarantined.

What if you pull a Johnny Depp, and don’t comply? That qualifies as a federal crime under 18 U.S. Code Section 545. It may get you fined and punished with up to 20, count ’em, 20 years in prison. (The maximum penalties are no doubt reserved for the most severe smuggling cases, but still . . . .)

And don’t even try bringing in an African rodent or a monkey.

See “Bringing Your Pets When You Immigrate to the U.S.” for more information.



California Courts Unsympathetic to Association Homeowners Trying to Avoid Fees for Renting Out Property

Any California homeowner living in a community governed by a condo or homeowners association (HOA) and hoping to earn a little extra cash with short-term rentals should pay heed to a recent decision by the state’s Second Appellate District Court of Appeal, called Oak Shores Community Association v. Burlison. (Second Appellate District, March 24, 2015).

It concerns two absentee homeowners who regularly rented out their homes in Oak Shores — a private community by the shores of Lake Nacimiento, offering amenities such as boating, golf, a pool, a campground and more.

The owners refused to pay their HOA’s annual fee of $325 for owners who rent out homes. In fact, they refused to pay a number of other fees, adding up to over tens of thousands of dollars by the time they brought suit. Their suit also challenged an HOA rule that homeowners who rented out their homes could not do so for periods of less than seven days, a rule limiting the number of cars, boats and other watercraft that renters were allowed to bring in, and more.

Neither the trial court nor the appeals court saw any merit in the homeowners’ arguments, agreeing with Oak Shores that renters are tough on a property and add to the HOA’s expenses and problems. What problems are these, you might wonder? The court cited issues to do with parking, lack of awareness of the rules, noise and use, and abuse of the facilities, requiring greater supervision and increased administrative expenses.

HOA boards around California probably have their eyes on this decision. If rules restricting rentals aren’t already in their rules or bylaws, they may be adding them soon.

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